OMAHA—Year after year at College World Series media day, coaches have sat on the dais and recounted the expressions of awe on their players' faces as their team buses first crested the hill on 10th Street, and Rosenblatt Stadium's blue facade came into view.
Rosenblatt still has that kind of effect, as it turns out.
"After the coaches' meeting last night, we drove by Rosenblatt on the way back to the hotel, and it's still standing," Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said on the dais Friday, during one of three pre-College World Series press conferences. "They've taken the scoreboard down, but driving up that hill still gives you a little bit of goosebumps, even though it was 10:30 at night, no lights on."
This year, of course, Rosenblatt is merely a sight to admire through the bus windows—it is not the destination. So how did players react when they first laid eyes upon sparkling new TD Ameritrade Park?
"I think our players were in awe when they all saw it for the first time," North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. "It is different, certainly. But the pictures of this place sure don't do it justice. Just walking around the inside, you can tell there is a great deal of thought and detail put into this stadium. I can't imagine being a college player and getting to play in a stadium like this on this stage. So I think our players will relish it."
"I think you have to have a lot of little boy in you whether you're a coach or a player—I think it's one of the reasons we do what we do," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "I could hear the excitement in the back of the bus, the giddiness, the 'wow' factor in effect. That's great that you can drive past a ballpark and young adults are showing emotion and getting excited about where they are."
Texas coach Augie Garrido said he thought his players were "a bit overwhelmed" by the magnitude of the $130 million stadium.
"We had a little conversation in the outfield—maybe the greatest sports movie ever made was 'Hoosiers,' when he walks in and measures the basket. I had to go to that one and say, 'Hey, there's a diamond inside all this other stuff,' " Garrido said.
Of course, the Gamecocks, Tar Heels and Longhorns are accustomed to the hoopla of the College World Series. For them, it's just a matter of getting used to a new building. But California hasn't been to Omaha since 1992. For its players, arriving at TD Ameritrade had all the magic of driving up that hill to Rosenblatt. Coach David Esquer made sure of that. Stealing an idea from another coach (he thinks it was Dave Serrano), Esquer addressed his team before the bus got within view of the stadium.
"I asked our team, I said, 'This is corny, I know, but indulge me, close your eyes,' " he said. "So I had them close their eyes. And I kind of talked them through a little bit of what our season meant to us, starting in the fall and before our first practice our program was cut.
"We got to the stadium, and the bus driver pulled up, and I said, 'When you make a decision to commit to each other and work hard and fulfill all those promises that everyone kind of makes about having the best season, and then actually have the toughness to go through some off-the-field adversity and still make it through, there is a chance that can you realize your dreams and get to the destination that you've been shooting for for the whole year.' I said that, 'The destination is here. OK, now open your eyes,' and to see their faces is pretty rewarding."
Here are some other highlights from media day:
• There were no surprises among the announced Game One starters: Patrick Johnson (North Carolina), Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt), Taylor Jungmann (Texas), Hudson Randall (Florida), Danny Hultzen (Virginia), Erik Johnson (California), Ross Stripling (Texas A&M) and Michael Roth (South Carolina).
• Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said Brian Johnson (concussion) has been cleared to play in Omaha. He could start at DH on Saturday and would likely serve as Florida's third starter, behind Randall and Karsten Whitson. Fellow sophomore two-way star Austin Maddox (sprained foot) was walking in a boot, but O'Sullivan said that was just for precautionary reasons, and the coach seemed very confident that Maddox will be available to close games for Florida, though his hitting role is still in question. Maddox likely won't start in the opener, with Daniel Pigott and Tyler Thompson on the outfield corners, Preston Tucker at first base and Johnson as the DH.
• Esquer said lefthander Justin Jones is day-to-day with a bicep strain. Freshman lefty Kyle Porter and righty Dixon Anderson give the Bears two other quality starting options if Jones cannot pitch in Omaha.
• South Carolina center fielder Evan Marzilli tweaked his hamstring in practice Thursday, and Tanner said he is day to day. He took a strong batting practice, an encouraging sign.
• As usual, there were a couple of moments of levity in the coaches' press conferences, this year courtesy of Tanner and Garrido.
"Our fans were getting restless—we missed last year," Garrido said during his opening remark, drawing a scowl from Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, whose program is making its first appearance in Omaha.
Later, Garrido made light of his team's unimposing offensive numbers.
"Well, after looking at our offensive statistics, the committee decided they didn't need to test our bats," he said. "We hit 81 home runs last year and we hit 18 this year, so there's been a change. Whether that's better or not, it doesn't make any difference. It's the way it is. So that's the way it's affected us. We'll just have to find a way to score a run every now and then. Kevin (O'Sullivan)'s got four guys with more home runs than our team."
The Gators have plenty of power, but for the record, Garrido was exaggerating. Only Mike Zunino has as many homers (18) as the Longhorns.
• A reporter asked Tanner if he thought his team was flying under the radar a little bit.
"I don't know," Tanner said. "You've been around me a little bit. I don't think too far past today. I don't read websites. I don't tweet. I don't do Facebook. I don't do a lot of things. I listen to country music, and that's kind of all I know. I'm pretty good in the country music field. I think we're the kind of club that a lot of times when people play us, they don't think we're very good. We win our share."
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